Since “Hardhome” put the fear of the White Walkers into the hearts and minds of viewers everywhere, a theory has cropped up online that the White Walkers and their army of the dead are really an extended metaphor for climate change, a coming global catastrophe largely ignored by those with the power to actually do something about it. Over at Vox, Zach Beauchamp narrates a video drawing parallels between these two oncoming disasters.
The text of Game of Thrones is rich enough to sustain any number of metaphors (for example, the Wall has sometimes been analogized to overzealous attempts to stop illegal immigration), but the White Walker-climate change metaphor seems especially appropriate. Like Beauchamp says, the White Walkers literally change the weather when they approach, and the way certain southern lords ignore or deny their existence mimics the way certain politicians deny claims that climate change is a danger in our world. If left unchecked, both threats could wipe out humanity.
The one part I don’t think holds up is where Beauchamp analogizes the Night’s Watch to the “experts in the real world” who “stand on the sidelines.” Because the Night’s Watchmen are the only ones actually doing something about the White Walker threat, I’d say they’re more like the real-world scientists who are lobbying world leaders to do something about climate change. If anyone’s standing on the sidelines, it’s all the southron lords too busy squabbling with each other over their rights to the Iron Throne to deal with the threats up north.
Also, George R.R. Martin has alluded before to thinking about climate change when crafting his narrative, or at least recognizing that it’s a valid analogy when analyzing the events in his novels. Here’s what he had to say during a 2013 interview with Al Jazeera America:
I mean, we have things going on in our world right now like climate change, that’s, you know, ultimately a threat to the entire world. But people are using it as a political football instead of, you know … You’d think everybody would get together.
This is something that can wipe out possibly the human race. So I wanted to do an analogue not specifically to the modern-day thing but as a general thing with the structure of the book.
It’s worth noting that Martin wasn’t actually saying that he meant the White Walkers to stand in for climate change here, only that it was valid interpretation. Ultimately, it goes back to the suppleness of the text. Game of Thrones is well-written enough to be many things to many people, and if inspires discussion of climate change, all the better.
You can read the original article by Dr. Charli Carpenter, the one that inspired the Vox video, here.